‘Accessibility Equals Success’ says Number 1 British Para-Rower
Benjamin Pritchard, 28, a wheelchair user from South West Wales, is currently the UK’s leading PR1 men’s single sculler and has achieved Paralympic qualification for Team GB – success he attributes to greater accessibility and independence at home.
Before becoming a successful full-time para-athlete, Benjamin was a high achiever in sport at school. He became a powerful triathlete with cycling as his main focus – helping him achieve category 3 classification in 2016. Inspired by category 1 rider Bradley Wiggins, Ben pushed himself to the max in his last season 2016/17 race aiming to achieve category 2 standing, when tragedy struck and he lost his front wheel, resulting in a high-speed crash. Ben suffered a T6 spinal fracture and paralysis from the waist down. He underwent months of rehabilitation at The National Spinal Injuries Centre in Stoke Mandeville during which time he was introduced to rowing.
Originally from Swansea, Ben moved to Greenwich in London after his studies and worked as a marine insurance broker in the City. He thrived in this competitive environment however following his accident, combining life in a wheelchair with the daily commute AND sports training, became challenging. Ben decided to move back to Ammanford in Wales, buying his own property so he could be nearer his family and girlfriend. He invested in a ‘Dormer Bungalow’ which has now been fitted with specialist equipment for wheelchair accessibility.
One of the key adaptations has been the installation of a contemporary home lift to give Ben seamless access upstairs. As a finely tuned athlete, having to ‘bum shuffle’ up and downstairs was becoming inconvenient, undignified and particularly unsafe when transferring out of a wheelchair. With the help of his Stiltz Home lift, Ben has full and independent use of his home which has immeasurable value as a wheelchair user. Simple pleasures such as bringing his girlfriend breakfast in bed is now possible – all adding to his contentment and inner positivity – resulting in greater training focus and rowing speed.
Ben explains: “My home lift makes a massive difference to my life and my ability to focus on training. When I am at home, I don’t worry about how to get up and down the stairs, plus I only need one wheelchair. Previously I needed two chairs – one upstairs and one down. Transferring between them was a pain and the continual fear of falling from a wheelchair at the top of the stairs was really preying on my mind and causing me stress and worry. Whereas now I can wheel myself between floors safely and without interruption.”
Ben’s phenomenal rise on the international rowing stage continues. Since making his international debut for GB Rowing and claiming two bronze medals at the Gavirate International Regatta, he has won bronze at World Cup II in Poznan, Poland and represented Great Britain at the World Championships. He has also secured qualification for Team GB at the Paralympics. During the pandemic lockdown he has been training at home as he’s unable to access his usual rowing regime which takes place near Reading in Berkshire.
As a professional sportsperson, focus is everything. Hence Ben’s home lift has become invaluable: “When you are training six days a week as I do, you must remain 100% focused at all times, you can’t afford any distractions or stress. Problems at home with usability must be avoided at all costs; assisted living has to be as easy as possible. All sports at this level are highly competitive and I am under extreme pressure to qualify for the Paralympics. As the Games have been delayed for a year, I now have to sustain my utmost performance levels for longer. I may have won a place in the Team GB Paralympics squad, however, there is no guarantee I will sit in the boat. Having my home adapted, especially with the Stiltz Home lift, has strengthened my mental health and wellbeing – resulting in greater speed, better technique, and faster times on the water.”